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By Brigadier General James H. Howard, USAFR (Ret.)
Two years prior to the invasion of Hitlers Fortress Europe in 1944, the United States and Great Britain embarked upon the most devastating onslaught ever performed by man on an entrenched enemy country. The U.S. Eighth Bomber Command began the daylight bombing of strategic targets in Germany and occupied France with both the B-17 Flying Fortresses and B-24 Liberators. The "Mighty Eighth" grew to be the worlds biggest air force. It ground much of industrial Germany into hamburger with massive raids which employed thousands of planes. When D-Day arrived, the allies were blessed with what amounted to air superiority over the Continent of Europe.
However, an invasion by ground army was another matter. Any invasion against a well trained and prepared enemy, would require a tactical air force to augment the effect of strategic bombing. Tactical bombing would be concentrated against close-in targets in direct support of our armies that strategic bombing missed. The Ninth Air Force was given that responsibility in early 1944. It was first commanded by Lieutenant General Lewis Brereton who was later replaced by Lieutenant General Hoyt Vandenberg.
The Ninth was composed of Eighteen fighter groups, eleven bomb groups, and fourteen troop carrier groups. The backbone of the Ninth Bomber Command was the deadly Martin B-26 Marauder. This twin engine plane looked like a fat sausage in the air with wings that belonged properly on a humming bird. The "Flying Brick", as it was sometimes called, was fast and unforgiving at low speeds. With its steep glide angle, power approaches were mandatory.
Some crews at Stateside training bases feared the Marauder due to its alleged instability. However, one crew member who felt that the Marauder attracted more than its share of unwarranted criticism, is Chester P. Klier. He was an engineer gunner with the 386th Bombardment Group during World War Two. He says, "Because its short wing span made it appear to have little means of support, it was nicknamed The Flying Prostitute. It was also called the Widow Maker and the Killer."
In an exhaustive study and research of his World War Two bomb group, Chester Klier rejected most of those adverse comments. He said, "The Marauder was almost as maneuverable as a pursuit and certainly no plane for grandma to fly. In the hands of a skilled pilot, it was the hottest, hardest hitting things with wings." Chester Klier has spent years writing this monumental history of his bomb group. He has described every mission performed by the group in minute detail, with drawings and elaborate diagrams. He has included thousands of photographs as well as crew names and planes identified that were lost to hostile action. This volume is the first of a series of five volumes that will constitute the complete story of the 386th. It has obviously been a real labor of love. I predict this will be considered by aviation historians to be the most detailed and accurate account of any flying unit in World War Two.
It will be for you, the reading public to understand more fully the ordeal of tactical bombardment through the eyes of Chester Klier, after you have read these volumes. This story should bring back memories to old airmen, of daring bomb runs and the air battles against German fighters, and the all-pervading flak. While the Marauder was a great plane in its day, it was the crews that flew them that made the difference. Their courage and dedication deserve the admiration of all America for what they did to preserve freedom.
Brigadier General James H. Howard